Here are a few of my plein air paintings from last week in Bordeaux, France.
Statues and Circus Trucks. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Tram and Scaffold, Bordeaux. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
It’s a very beautiful city. My paintings don’t really do the place justice (and it wasn’t the best time of year for colors). They say it’s like a little Paris and it does have that feel to it, while still seeming small and manageable. It would probably be a great place to live as the climate is mild for Europe, and the food and wine are so amazing.
Sailboat, Cap Ferret. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Evening Strollers, Bordeaux. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
And below is a small sketch of Porta San Frediano in Florence from our trip back. I lived in San Frediano for ten years and always wanted to paint the neighborhood more.
Porta San Frediano. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Apologies for not painting out the clip holes in the skies. It’s been a busy few weeks.
Below are some paintings from my week here in Italy. I was supposed to be on the lakes up North this week, but I got rained out. Here in Tuscany the weather is a bit more summery, even if there is an early Autumn chill in the air (and we’ve had a few days of rain here too).
San Gimignano. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I lived in Florence for 20 years and never painted the classic, postcard view of the Duomo. I also spent my summers about 20 minutes away from San Gimignano and never painted the towers. I thought this year I would get them both out of the way.
Tourist Stands, Piazzale Michelangelo. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Most of the time I stayed in the countryside working on this larger piece:
The Mulberry Tree. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.
I’m hoping for one more day of sun to finish, but it’s not looking good.
Here is the sketch:
Mulberry Tree Study. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
And in the evenings I painted a series of sunsets from the house:
The last few years I was in Florence I taught landscape painting at the Florence Academy of Art. They have recently updated their website to reflect better their professional approach to teaching painting and sculpture.
Their alumni gallery is especially impressive for the sheer number of professional working realist painters and teachers they have produced in their short history, as well as the high quality of the art produced and the great variety of style in the works. ‘Academic’ art is sometimes criticized for producing painters and sculptors whose work all looks the same. Looking through the work displayed on the FAA site, the director Daniel Graves and his faculty have clearly done an excellent job of allowing individualism to flourish, while at the same time giving all their students the proper tools to realize their vision.
The Florence Academy’s drawing, painting and sculpture departments are all excellent and their écorché program (originally set-up by Andy Ameral who currently teaches at the Golden Gate Atelier in the SF Bay Area) is something I regret not having taken advantage of while I still lived in Florence. The FAA is also alone among the schools in Florence in having a number of gallery contacts, so the best students are funneled into the gallery system and avoid the tedious process of getting someone to show their work.
Below are some paintings from a very short (weekend) trip to Tuscany. Since I had so little time to paint I chose only subjects that were backlit, i.e. had the sun behind them.
Market Stall in Piazza Santo Spirito. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
It’s probably different for every painter, but I find I can work much faster and get better results when painting towards the sun. It becomes much more about drawing and values. Frontlit subjects require a painter to capture every small nuance in hue and chroma which, for me, takes much longer.
Burning Leaves, Montisi. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Piazza del Carmine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Fishermen on the Banks of the Arno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
It’s interesting to look at historic landscape painters and their preference for lighting in their views. For example, the Spanish painter Carlos de Haes went for the backlit subject in many of his plein air and studio landscapes.
Carlos de Haes -La Torre de Douarnenez
Carlos de Haes – Picos de Europa.
And Camille Corot’s best works are usually backlit:
Camille Corot – The Bridge at Narni.
As are Dennis Miller Bunker’s:
Dennis Miller Bunker – Brittany Town Morning.
The French Impressionists were also big on the midday backlit view, which is surprising since their draftsmanship wasn’t the best and they seemed so focused on color.
Claude Monet – The Cliff of Aval.
On the other hand, the Spanish painters Joaquín Sorolla and Martín Rico y Ortega seemed to love the bright whites, dark skies, and strong hues of frontlit subjects in Spain and Italy. And the Italian painter Rubens Santoro painted some amazing sunlight-filled views of Italy which are also often frontlit.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – The Return of the Catch, Valencia Beach
Martín Rico y Ortega – View of Paris from the Trocadero.
Rubens Santoro – On the Mediterranean Coast
Isaac Levitan’s best paintings are usually frontlit (or overcast).
Isaac Levitan – March.
And finally, on the other side of the world, the great Australian painter Arthur Streeton also used the frontlit view often to show the heat of the Australian summers.
Arthur Streeton – Sunlight.
Obviously, all of these great artists tried to capture a wide variety of light effects in their paintings. Still, looking over a single painter’s oeuvre, it’s fun to try to discern a pattern. Some of the other great landscape painters I (briefly) researched for this post were John Singer Sargent, Telemaco Signorini, and Edward Seago, but I wasn’t able to see any preference in their work (even Sorolla was a bit of a stretch).
Since my current larger projects are taking a while I thought I would rehash some older work. This is part of a series of paintings I did in 2008 of the small Piaggio Apini or ‘worker bees’ (as opposed to the Vespas or ‘wasps’ made by the same company). They were used by the artisans and tradesmen in Florence until they were banned recently by the new mayor.
Ape, Via del Campuccio (?). 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.
Amore Ti Amo. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
Since they move pretty quickly and I couldn’t always stand in the road with my easel, some were done from photographs. This was the only time I ever tried working solely from photography and I decided it wasn’t for me. I spent too much time training my eyes to work from life.
Apino, Via Maffia (#2). 40 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
Ironically the ones I painted from life often look more photographic than the ones painted from photos. I think it’s because one has so much more information available when working on site.
Nymph in Arcadia. 40 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
The title of the post comes from a show I had in 2008 in a local cafe showing these little sketches. They say selling art in Florence is like selling ice in Antarctica, but these proved surprisingly popular.
I’Trippaio di Sant’Ambrogio. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
Tina Reading under an Olive Tree. 110 cm x 90 cm, oil on linen.
Here are a few paintings from the last week in Tuscany. I did this large portrait of my wife reading under an olive tree. Being able to get far back is really great for painting portraits, even outside (I’ve discussed this before).
Here was the set-up:
Plein air portraiture in the Tuscan countryside.
As idyllic as it looks, it was ridiculously hot. After the last four hour midday session I got sick from the heat and had cold sweats, nausea and a headache. An occupational hazard.
These were some of the smaller sketches:
Three Tuscan Cloud Studies. 20 x 14 cm ea.
Laundry and Lemon Trees. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Hay Bales along the Road, Noce. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Pistoletto’s “Headache” at Porta Romana, 20 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
The above painting went face-down into the dirt when the dog pulled the easel over, hence the debris. Another occupational hazard. The trick to getting much of the dirt or sand out is to let the painting dry completely, then clean it.
Piazza Santo Spirito on a Sunday in July. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
I’ll be having another exhibition for charity next week at the Osteria di Santo Spirito. The paintings are all sketches from this winter painted in the Oltrarno of Florence and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Amici di Santo Spirito association. The opening reception will be on Thursday, February 25th from 6 to 9 pm. You can see some of the work here.
At the moment I am teaching the Florence Academy of Art’s landscape painting class along with Jordan Sokol. Princess Giorgiana Corsini has generously given us the use of the private gardens at her palazzo, which is one of the more beautiful places to paint on an April morning. I took a few pictures this morning as the place is so stunning.
One interesting thing about the course in general is that the advanced painting students tend to have more difficulty that the intermediate group. I think they assume that because they have painted so much in the studio already that it should be just the same outside. It is actually very different, and they tend to get frustrated quicker that the students with less experience in painting. Another problem I notice every year is that the students bring the wrong materials and think they can just wing it. Painting is so difficult even when your materials are all perfect, it becomes almost impossible if you have missing or incorrect equipment.
This year the class is going well. Today was only our second meeting and already the work is showing great improvement.